Education is Entertainment, Design, and Orchestration

January 5, 2011 at 10:48 pm 4 comments

I’ve been thinking a good bit about the McLuhan quote: “It’s misleading to suppose there’s any basic difference between education & entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of looking into the matter.”  I think he’s talking about the need for both to focus on engagement, to grab the reader/viewer/student and get her to think about some issue.  Maybe he’s also talking about the common goal of transporting the reader/viewer/student to another place, where education has the explicit goal of pulling the R/V/S out of the Platonic cave. There’s a Bruner quote that speaks to the same issue: “teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.”

I started thinking about these kind of unusual takes on education (like McLuhan’s connection to entertainment) when I read a piece by Paola Antonelli (senior curator of architecture and design, New York MOMA) in The Economist‘s The World in 2011. She says,

“One of design’s most fundamental tasks is to help people deal with change. Designers stand between revolutions and everyday life. When the internet happened, they created interfaces with buttons and hyperlinks that enabled us all to use it. Designers make disruptive innovations manageable and approachable, so that they can be embraced and assimilated into life. And they never forget functionality and elegance. In 25 years, designers will be at the nexus of things. They will not be divvied up according to their reductive speciality (graphic, product, furniture, so 20th century!). On the contrary, like physics, design will be loosely separated between theoretical and applied.”

Antonelli talks about design in a way that I think about education. A teacher helps students find new ideas approachable.  Education has theoretical aspects as well as applied aspects.  Education is getting divvied up according to reductive specialty, which (for me) is so 21st century.

I think that both of these views on education are important, but incomplete.  What a teacher does is engage students (like McLuhan and Bruner is saying) and helps make ideas manageable (as Antonelli is saying). That feels necessary yet not sufficient.  There’s another piece, what we used to call “orchestration” in Georgia Tech’s EduTech Institute.  A teacher guides the students’ actions, sets the “score,” defines the activities that create the learning situations.  It’s what Janet Kolodner’s Learning By Design project did with their rituals.  Christ Quintana built software to do this guidance, and he called it “Symphony.”

These three different perspectives are describing education, but not learning.  What a teacher can do is to engage like in entertainment, to make approachable like good design, and to guide like a conductor.  But the learning can only come from the student, who gets engaged and whose thinking activities are guided and scaffolded.  We can create opportunities for learning through education, but the actual learning is completely out of our hands.  That perspective — that the focus is really the student’s learning, not the teacher’s doing — is a common thread in all three.  The focus of the “temptation,” the user of the design, and the the musician in the orchestra is the student.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gilbert  |  January 5, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    Mark, here are two great posts from Dan Meyer on teaching/learning as entertainment, specifically as storytelling:

  • 2. natinja  |  January 6, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Your second assumption concerning the McLuhan’s quote is probably closer to the original intent than your first guess, but still far off from what McLuhan had in mind when he elaborated the Classroom Without Walls, which is all about media literacy and the role of education in a total environment where much of the learning is done outside the classroom, and later on, he will dedicated a book about the classroom as a counter-environment, a place which will seek for questions instead of answers (1977 “City as Classroom: Understanding Language and Media”, with Kathryn Hutchon and Eric McLuhan). The latter is very little known, but contains many interesting exercises which consist in the deconstruction of designed products, such newspapers, radio stations & schools, to understand their languages.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Motheo Moleko and j edward ladenburger. j edward ladenburger said: Education is Entertainment, Design, and Orchestration « Computing Education Blog […]


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